Since I first heard about it a few years ago, I’ve wanted to attempt the O.W.L Readathon. It’s an annual Harry Potter-themed reading challenge that happens in April every year and is hosted by the YouTuber, Book Roast. It takes the Hogwarts April exams and convert them into a reading challenge where every subject has a prompt and the subjects you pass (by reading a book that fits the prompt) qualify you for a career in the wizarding world.
The way most people attempt the challenge seems to be that they decide on a wizarding career before the 1st of April and select a to-read pile based on the prompts for that career. I’ve never done really well with to-be-read piles (makes reading feel like work), so I decided to instead see just how many subjects I could get through – aiming for all 12 (which would, incidentally, be the Alchemist wizarding career). Usually I only manage two or three books in a month, but reading seems to be one of the few things I can focus on at the moment and I’m getting through far more books than I usually do. It was still a stretch goal, but I managed! Some of the books were long, some were difficult to get through, but a few were absolutely wonderful and kept me going.
Here’s my journey in the order of the prompts.
Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
Ancient Runes – Heart rune: Heart on the cover or in the title
Ceony wanted to weld metal with her magic, but instead a quota meant she was bonded to paper and taken to apprentice with an odd man who may have something to do with those who pull power from flesh.
I loved this book so much that I read it in a single session.
Well, listened. I ended up getting the audiobook because I couldn’t find a physical copy. A few reviews said the narrator was a bit over the top, and she is, but I actually grew to enjoy her characterisation. The story itself reminded me of the anime Paprika, but if it had been written by Diana Wynne Jones (Howl’s Moving Castle, which is incidentally my favourite book of all time).
The magic system is super original and I loved watching the main character develop. I thought Holberg was really clever in the way she built all the characters through a series of scattered flashback dream sequences. Masterful storytelling.
Duma Key by Stephen King
Arithmancy – Magical qualities of number 2: balance/opposites – read something outside your favourite genre
A man who lost his arm in an accident goes to the Florida Keys and takes up painting.
I’m not a fan of being scared or stressed when reading, so I don’t read a lot of horror. I asked my husband for a rec for this prompt and he suggested Duma Key, which we have in both hard copy and audiobook. The narrator was wonderful and I really enjoyed the descriptive writing and the colourful characters.
Two things spoiled this book for me. The first was that King telegraphs what’s about to happen at the start of each chapter, which made the events less impactful. The other was an event right at the end which felt unnecessary. Considering that King is notoriously bad at endings, this one got so close to satisfying that it’s definitely worth the read.
Small Change by Roan Parrish
Astronomy – Night classes: Read majority of this book when it’s dark outside
Ginger has poured her life into her tattoo shop and romance has always been a low priority. But when she meets the warm and cheerful Christopher, she has to reexamine what she truly wants from life.
I’ve been enjoying working my way through Roan Parrish’s romances. This is an unofficial book four to the gay romance series Middle of Somewhere. It’s a spin-off tale about the best friend of one of the other characters and it’s a straight romance.
I highly recommend the Middle of Somewhere series if you like romance and don’t mind open door sex scenes (there are lots of sex scenes but the relationships are super sweet and packed with feels). This book… not so much. The main character is incredibly self absorbed and that just put me off. I wanted her love interest to go and find someone better. He deserved someone better.
Parrish’s novels are always packed with interesting people though, and that’s true here. I may continue with this spin off series just to read more about the other characters.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Care of Magical Creatures – Hippogriffs: Creature with a beak on the cover
An orphan boy discovers he’s a wizard and goes off to wizarding school where he must confront mean teachers, homework, and the Dark Lord.
Still as good as ever. Streamed free thanks to Audible’s stories website they’ve set up for kids (ahem) during lockdown.
What struck me this time around was how much excellent foreshadowing there is, especially when Hagrid and Harry go to Diagon Alley. The end of the seventh book is right there between the lines and it gave me goosebumps.
I love it when you go back to read the start of a series and it’s even better for everything you know will happen later.
Everless by Sara Holland
Charms – Lumos maxima: white cover
In a world where time is literally money, a girl tries to discover who she is and what secrets her father died for.
This was a super frustrating read full of characters whose motivations were: plot.
The story is driven by a mystery that only starts to unravel at around about page 300 even though the main character has had the clues for ages and someone who I suspect we’ll be told has been in love with her since she was seven knows everything, but didn’t want to share with her because reasons.
I enjoyed the highly original concept of a world where someone’s time can be made into coins and the peasants very literally give years of their lives to the wealthy. You’d expect it to go in the direction of class struggles and toppling the aristocracy, but it’s more concerned with the mysteries of the character’s own life. I guess it’s only part one of a series so it might go there eventually. This first book felt very thin on plot. And character.
Concept and world were good though.
Reckless by Jess Whitecroft
Defence Against the Dark Arts – Grindylows: book set at the sea/coast
“It’s an old and popular love story – the pirate and the virgin who steals his heart away, only this time the pirate is the virgin and the girl isn’t a girl at all.”
I needed something quick and easy towards the end of this challenge, so I picked a pirate romance for this prompt. I loved the above tagline as it sounded like a really original and fun take on a good trope.
Whitecroft’s writing is solid and I enjoyed her descriptions of the Caribbean. I also enjoyed the subplot that featured a scheming pirate captain. However, the romance – which is the core of this genre – felt flat to me. I felt like it hit a peak too soon and a slower burn would have made more sense with this sort of story. I also struggled to take the characters seriously in the time period they were in as they spoke and acted like modern people rather than like pirates.
Valiant by Holly Black
Divination – Third eye: assign numbers to your TBR and use a random number generator to pick your read
A runaway falls in with a group of homeless teens and finds herself indebted to a surprisingly kind troll who lives under Brooklyn bridge.
Thank the stars for bringing me another five star read this month.
Valiant is an uncomfortable urban fantasy filled with refuse and decay, but that’s what makes it intriguing and unique. I loved watching Val’s ordinary life devolve into something darker and stranger with every page. I loved how her old and new friends showed their personalities and I liked the little cameos from Tithe.
It was weird reading the acknowledgements and seeing Black thanking her editors for having faith in her being able to “pull it out of the hat again” on her second solo book. Little did she know.
For fans of Telltale’s Wolf Among Us/the Fable graphic novel series. It’s an urban fantasy that belongs in that universe.
Miss Peregrine’s Home or Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Herbology – Mimbulus mimbletonia: Title starts with an M
When his grandad dies, a boy goes on a quest to find the mysterious island where the old man said he grew up surrounded by magic.
I really struggled with this because the audiiobook was so bad. I think it was produced by whoever owns the movie rights now, and they got the guy who did Percy Jackson because he was a big name in the genre. Problem is he can’t do a British accent for all he is worth. The female characters were completely comical.
In terms of the writing, it’s very old fashioned. Like Famous Five or Hardy Boys. Lots of reported speech (he said, he thought, he heard), telling rather than showing sort of stuff. But the concept was cool and it made me feel nostalgic for those old adventure stories.
Do I really care about the characters though? Not really. I want to carry on with the series because the other books (with a different narrator) are streaming free on Audible right now, but I could do without them too.
The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith
History of Magic – Witch Hunts: Book featuring witches/wizards
A witch who spent seven years under a curse tries to reclaim her life on a vinyard, but gets framed for murder.
This book kept coming up whenever I searched for my favourite tropes and Amazon kept recommending it to me, so it was my very first Kindle Unlimited borrow.
Growing up in wine country, I particularly loved the premise of a magic that was tied to wine making. The writing itself was beautiful and the narration for the audiobook was good. I just didn’t really feel anything for the characters, especially not the romantic lead. The romance itself felt forced – like something that was there because it had to be. I didn’t feel like the characters fell in love on the page. More, they told us about how they were starting to develop feelings for each other. I also found the villain a bit cliched and the story predictable. The more interesting side characters didn’t have much of a chance to blossom (‘come to fruition’ would probably be a more apt phrase given the subject at hand).
I won’t continue with this particular series, but I’m not ready to write the author off. I’m keen to try something else of hers at some other time.
The Other Half by Jess Whitecroft
Muggle Studies – Book from the perspective of a Muggle (contemporary)
Two men inherit an old house. They’re complete strangers, but they decide they’re going to try to restore it together, and possibly restore each other in the process
I decided to try another Whitecroft romance. This one had loveable characters and was really funny and fun. Unfortunately there were lots of typos and I don’t think it was proofread.
Nevertheless, I did enjoy it. The author clearly likes instalove though because once again the romance peaks in the middle of the story.
High Tower Gods by C.L. Corona (Cat Hellisen)
Potions – Shrinking solution: Book under 150 pages
Three alchemists created artificial life, now one of them has to prove that her creation is not capable of murder.
Cat’s writing is always a treat and she manages to create a wonderful world in only a few pages. The mystery is intriguing and the pacing is great.
Take I, Robot, add magic and make the protagonist an immortal woman and you’ll end up with something like this.
I would have loved a chance to get to know the small cast of characters a bit better, especially the manservant whose past and motivations are hinted at within the pages, but whose inner workings I couldn’t quite grasp.
Golden Age by James Maxwell
Transfiguration – Animagus lecture: Book/series that includes shapeshifting
The Sun King wants gold for his tomb and he’s willing to crush entire empires to get it. A tiny peaceful island doesn’t stand a chance. Or does it?
I knew pretty much immediately that this was a different subgenre from the fantasy I usually prefer. It’s an epic tale of warring nations set in a fantastical Mediterranean. Think Assassin’s Creed Odyssey meets Game of Thrones and you won’t be that far off.
I really liked the characters. There’s both a female and male point of view character. The female was resourceful and likeable and her family felt worthy of protection. Maxwell did a really good job of introducing her father and little sister early on and making us care about them. The male character was frustratingly excellent at a lot of things he tries, but for reasons that are later explained.
I also really enjoyed Maxwell’s worldbuilding. While it meant the start of the story was slow, it meant that when things went wrong we were emotionally invested.
I’m really glad that I finally managed to do this challenge and reading 12 books in a month feels like the reading equivalent of NaNoWriMo to me. It was a good time to do a challenge and have something to work towards, even though some of the books were ones I would have DNFed otherwise. I’m looking forward to being able to read what I’m in the mood to read again!